Types of Workplace Conflict

Differing temperaments and personalities in one workplace can lead to many situations, especially conflict situations when the interests, needs, goals or values of involved parties interfere with one another. The good news is that conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. With so many people working together, a conflict is sure to arise and with conflict management, this can become an opportunity for improvement. Here are five conflict situations and the pros and cons to each that may help lead the way toward understanding between coworkers.

Forcing (Competing). This occurs when an individual firmly pursues his or her own concerns/agenda despite resistance from other team members in the workplace. This may involve pushing one viewpoint at the expense of another or maintaining firm resistance to another person’s actions. A possible advantage is that it provides a quick resolution in a difficult decision-making task. A possible disadvantage is that it may negatively affect the relationship between the two involved parties.

Win-Win (Collaborating/Confronting or Problem Solving). A win-win situation involves an attempt to work with the other person to find a solution to the problem. The win-win approach in conflict management sees conflict resolution as an opportunity to reach a mutually beneficial result. This is often viewed as the best conflict management technique as everyone achieves their goals while also maintaining relationships. The downside is that this method may require more effort and more time than some other methods.

Compromising. Compromising looks for an expedient and mutually acceptable solution which partially satisfies both parties. The basic premise is that winning something while losing a little is normal and sometimes necessary. An advantage of this technique is that it can lead to quick resolution, which can be a big benefit when time is a factor. A disadvantage is that this may result in a situation when both parties are not satisfied with the outcome, turning this into a lose-lose situation.

Withdrawing (Avoiding). Withdrawing occurs when a conflict is not addressed; it is sidestepped or postponed in order to avoid the conflict altogether. A possible advantage is to give people some time to reassess the situation at a more favorable time to better prepare and collect information. A possible disadvantage of this method is that it may lead to weakening or losing your position and not acting may be interpreted as either an agreement or a sign of passivity that may lead more conflicts down the road.

Smoothing (Accommodating). Smoothing is accommodating the concerns of other people first, rather than one's own concerns. A possible advantage of smoothing is that it can help protect more important interests while giving up on some less important ones. A possible disadvantage is that this can open up the possibility of abuse, such as the opponent may take advantage of someone’s tendency toward smoothing/accommodating in order to get his or her own way again in the future.

There is not one best practice technique when it comes to conflict management. Which conflict resolution method is the best in a given situation depends on many factors, including an assessment of the conflict level and a strong management team to negotiate the best technique for the company and its staff. As long as the lines of communication stay open and everyone keeps in mind the goal, conflict can be resolved in the workplace.

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